The first thing was the pain, white-hot, searing pain, fierce enough to make him gag. He clamped his teeth shut just in time. Vomit, face-down in a sealed helmet, was a sure bet for suffocation. Only there was no helmet, he realized some time later. Not that it mattered, really. He was way past the point where he could muster the focus to make proper use of it. He was drowning in pain, its epicentre somewhere near his right shoulder but radiating through his whole body. It would have been so much easier, sensible even, to succumb to it, to quit fighting it. But he couldn't.

He couldn't. Fighting was what he did. What he was born for, created for. One of the first score, double-oh to nineteen, he lacked the tactical mind of the second one, the technical skills of the third or the knack for explosives of the fourth; not speaking of the multitasking abilities the last batch, bred as advisors, had; but all that had made Jango Fett a supreme fighter, was his. He was the sniper, the close-combat man. The thrill of the hunt, the elation of the kill, all that was so hardwired into his mind, body and soul, that there was little room for anything else. Especially not for quitting.

An uncoordinated flail brought his hand to his torso, the fabric of his jumpsuit both crisp and slickly wet under his touch. He groaned. And fought on. Somewhere a light was piercing the darkness. Mostly without coherent thought, he started to move. It wasn't a crawl, it was a slow, painful, dragging motion, leaving a broad smear in his wake. A bright follow-me sign for anyone or anything that might haunt the deep shadows of the ruined alleys.

oo oo oo oo oo

There were reasons why wookies, despite their giant size and matching strength, had a deep-rooted preference to live on trees. Old reasons, sharp-fanged reasons, which only came out at night. One of them, driven towards the city – usually off-limits for its kind – by the armies roaming the jungle and the tempting smells of battle inside, caught a delicious scent.

It followed the lure.

oo oo oo oo oo

Saqareeloo really hated droids. And separatists. And Trandoshans. All wookies did. But none could be hating them with as much zeal as he did. Because he should be out in the ancient woods now, proving that he had grown into manhood. And not checking the leftovers of the big city he had never loved much for stragglers. It was a good night, he could see stars twinkle beyond the smoke, and all the smells – smoke, splintered wood, overheated metal, explosives, and so on – rode clearly on the night winds. A perfect night for the initiation.

The black-haired youth cursed. His elders would have been shocked by his language, but if strangers from the stars could ruin his great day, he could just as well pick up something useful from them and revel in foul words.

He turned a corner, reaching another air current and stopped short. Perfectly clear smells. Singed fur and burned flesh. Overwhelming in their quantity. Saqar choked on the rudeness he had just started to utter. Swallowing heavily, he followed the scent, tracking it to a huge pile of rubble, a collapsed treetop building forming an impromptu mound for the dead lying beneath. Much sobered he went on with his search. Small feet scurried away at his approach. Carrion feeders. There was nothing he could do against them now. He kicked a splinter of wood into the general direction of the noise, but otherwise he could only hope that the ruins would shelter the dead from the worst of it. A more daring – or maybe less observant – creature ran almost over his feet, dragging a piece of booty with it, as long as its own body. Saqar growled deep in his throat, as much in surprise as in anger, and the little beast jumped away with a loud squeal. Abandoning its trophy. A little hand lay in front of his feet, the size and chestnut hair uncomfortably close to what his little sister looked like. The young sable wookie roared in sudden fury, all orders to be cautious forgotten.

Not yet a full-blown war cry – but here, where silence ruled, the silence death had left behind, it cut the night air like a blade. And found an answer. Another voice, far deeper, far darker, far more animal, took on the challenge. Thoughtless with rage, Saqareeloo stormed off to meet it.

oo oo oo oo oo

The smell grew stronger. Sweeter. Irresistible. A forked tongue flicked out to taste it and found the ground covered with rich flavours. Fresh blood, strange blood, a variety the creature or its ancestors had never tasted before, but blood was blood. Prey. Food.

Phosphorescent eyes searched for a movement. No thoughts reflected in the luminous orbs, none hid behind them. The predator wasn't a thinking creature. But it was old. And successful. It could hear the prey not far distant. Soon…

A roar split the night, a challenge, a claim. The creature flared. The deep reverberations of explosions, of armies treading the ground and heavy machinery, had sent it – who used vibrations to find its victims in the dark – into a frenzy, and the heavy scents of shredded bodies left it slavering. None and nothing would appropriate the prey it had found. Enraged it bellowed back and hurried on, abandoning stealth for speed, to secure the prey before any contender could reach it.

oo oo oo oo oo

Something was trailing him, pure instinct told him. Which was all he had left now, with the rush of his own blood deafening in his ears and swollen eyes fixed on the blurred light in front of him – burning wreckage he wouldn't recognize until he had crawled into the flames. He made half a move as if to turn around and left it at that. But as he dragged himself on – barely conscious, the right arm deadweight at his side – the left hand was curled into a fist, and the wristblade stood out above it.

oo oo oo oo oo

The young wookie was just around the corner when the predator finally caught up with his prey – and extremely glad of it. It started with an ugly sounding crunch, but then the whole alley he was about to enter exploded into sound and white-hot, searing light. Completely dazzled and his nightvision killed for good, he skidded into a halt. When his sensitive ears had stopped ringing and the light had abated to a red afterglow in his eyes, he ventured a quick look around the corner, bowcaster first.

He met a most amazing sight. A shhhirr ruzz trashed around between the ruins, clawing at its bulging eyes and obviously oblivious of the limp figure it still held in its jaws. As it opened the gaping maw to screech, the momentum of the flailing head flung the body off, a crumbled heap coming to rest ten steps from the stunned youth. A human soldier, the helmet and most of the armour protecting the upper torso torn away, whether by the beast that had caught him or before, the youngster couldn't tell, the stench of fresh blood thick on the broken body.

And yet, it was sheer luck that made the arching blade miss any vital organs when Saqar rushed to the fallen warrior's side and was greeted with the swipe of a knife. He caught the flailing arm before it could swing at him a second time.

oo oo oo oo oo

Pain, pain, pain. A light worse than a thousand glaring suns had burned out its eyes, and a thunderous explosion had ruptured its sensitive ear drums. But the sense for vibrations was slowly recovering from the stunning impact and smell was still functional. And as far as it knew, the best way to dilute the pain was to spread it around. The huge predator charged.

oo oo oo oo oo

The man was past the point where he could tell friend from foe. For all Saqareeloo could see, he was past the point where he should have been breathing. But that was the least of his problems now. A furious roar replaced the tortured screeching. There was scarcely time to scoop up the human and jump aside, before the ten-legged monster ploughed through the last of the rubble separating them. Sharp splinters dug into his back as he struggled to keep the impact off the wounded man, as far as possible. Saqar narrowly dodged another mad attack, spotted a broken trunk jutting from the ruins and chanced to run for it. Shhhirr ruzz didn't climb.

The polished wood proved to be treacherous footing, and with the heavy body in his arms, it was sheer desperation that carried the young wookie up to the safety of the first branch before the massive log shuddered under the onslaught of the irate beast. Giant claws gripped the fallen tree and shook it, but, with most of its length buried in the rubble, failed to dislodge it. Saqar let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. He let his, meanwhile unconscious, burden slide onto the broad bough, and fumbled through the man's belt for something to stop the bleeding. He had managed a rough field dressing when the vibrations moving along the trunk suddenly… changed.

Shhhirr ruzz didn't climb. They didn't venture into the city, either.

oo oo oo oo oo

Pain had overwhelmed the hunger. Both of them had fuelled the rage. Now frustration was adding to the fire, as the tempting prey stayed so close and yet out of reach. In the primitive brain of the ancient predator, red fury seethed, surged and washed past old, hereditary strategies. Crescent-shaped talons dug into hardened wood and dragged the heavy body up the steep incline.

oo oo oo oo oo

Only the greatest heroes of ancient tales had slain a shhhirr ruzz in their initiation nights. When tradition allowed only a knife, admittedly. Even with a bowcaster in his hand – lent to him grumblingly, as it wouldn't have made sense to send him into the troubled night unarmed – Saqareeloo didn't have too much confidence in his chances to make it into a tale. Or to make it, at all. He raised and cocked his weapon, nevertheless. Then he almost dropped it when something grabbed his arm.

oo oo oo oo oo

Maybe he slowly grew accustomed to the pain. Maybe he had found some help. Maybe approaching death was dulling his senses. Anyway, it didn't seem just as bad as before. That was enough for him. There were stars, overhead.

Stars and a black, moving shadow. Deeply-ingrained reflexes responded, but his muscles refused to obey. Which wasn't too bad, actually, he realized when his muddled brain caught up with the meaning of the rich, woolly-spicy smell surrounding him. A wookie.

A wookie boy, by the shape of his shoulders, barely broader than a bulky man's. A boy with a weapon, getting ready to shoot. And – a thick sable fur and a totally different species couldn't hide that from a man who had seen it too often – unsure of himself. A perfect start to loose the fight. The boy needed more training.

Or, lacking time for that, someone to assure him.

oo oo oo oo oo

The man was lucky to be alive. Even more than before. Saqar just so managed to stop himself from smashing whatever had attacked him from behind. He grumbled an ashamed apology. Not that they shared a common language, anyway.

They didn't need one. The unflinching eyes bored into his, steady, studying. Then the man gave him a little nod, and smiled. A fearful sight on that smashed visage, but for the young wookie – unburdened by human concepts of attractiveness – it was a sign of confidence and trust, from a warrior unconquered by the monster's jaws, or worse. The grip on his wrist tightened for a moment, then fell away as the human slumped in a dead faint.

Saqareeloo copied the smile and let it transform into a baring of teeth when he turned back towards the shhhirr ruzz. The bowcaster hummed in his hands, rapidly approaching overload as he slammed in quarrel after quarrel without releasing them.

Two meters beneath him, gaping jaws yawned wide in a final roar of challenge.

oo oo oo oo oo

Green light exploded.

oo oo oo oo oo

Not even ancient Wuccareen, eldest of the eldest, could remember the last time when a single warrior – let alone one too young to call him a man – had ventured out into the night and returned with a shhhirr ruzz claw in his belt, as long as his forearm.

Nor could anyone really understand, why the youngster insisted, fervently, that its twin, shoved into the belt of the wounded human the boy had brought with him, was rightfully the man's. But they accepted his word for it, the word of a wookie warrior.

Accordingly, the wounded man was treated with high respect while he made his slow recovery.

Dedicated to the man who always got the worst of all missions coming for him and never backed away from it. The backbone of the team, and when 38 said, he would go against the orders of General Yoda himself to rescue him, I agreed wholeheartedly. Only, since I'm not bred to obey Jedi orders, I would have gone through with it!